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Artists Alley: Building a Creative Community in Blowing Rock at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum (BRAHM) is a testament to the enduring rich abundance of art in the High Country. This exhibition celebrates the art historical legacy of Artists Alley in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Residing along a single road bearing the group's name and practicing their craft side by side for more than six decades, the small, close-knit community of artists and artisans emerged during the late 1950s. Drawing from BRAHM's permanent collection and an assortment of private collections, the included artwork illustrates the inspiring energy that defines the artistic collective of Artists Alley. On display now, the artists' foundational work cultivating the cultural strength of Blowing Rock succeeds their generation and influences the present-day art community in Blowing Rock and its surrounding towns.
Directly to the left of the exhibition statement, John Brady's undated Horn Player stares straight forward in an elongated stance, ushering visitors into Artists Alley. Dressed in deep red and seemingly floating in a navy forest, the figure's black eyes and gestured fingers distract from his horn. Brady owned the first home on Artists Alley, but Philip Moose became his neighbor shortly thereafter. Moose's oeuvre primarily depicts NC mountain landscapes and other sights from his travels; he captures their beauty in a way that summons the thought "Oh, I wish I were there." In his undated Snowy Hillside With House (Off 105), for example, Moose delicately rendered the Blue Ridge Mountains, fresh snow, barren trees, and a far-off home to create a picturesque moment of winter peace.
Moving beyond paint as a medium, José Fumero's woven fiber mosaics are stunningly intricate and hypnotic. In his undated Oracle, a man's mosaic bearded face breaks through the woven warps and wefts of printed strips that create illusions of light and shadow. Fumero's work is tactile, tangible, and enticing. In conversation with another visitor about how Fumero accomplished the thick, fluffy collar and trailing train of braided thread and feathers on his undated Feather Shawl, she audibly reminded herself to refrain from touching the brown and pink wool garment.
Just as this visitor was drawn to the shawl, I was captivated by Lynn Jenkins' raku vessels. Raku firing is a Japanese earthenware technique that produces unique, unpredictable surface effects when glazed ceramics are heated rapidly and placed in combustible materials while still red-hot. Jenkins' overlaid textures are reminiscent of the High Country's mountain terrain; with inset stones and carved components, her ceramics epitomize the creativity inherent in North Carolina pottery. Such ingenuity manifests in Herb Cohen's sculpture as well. With his mastery of sgraffito–a technique where layers of clay and paint are scratched away to create intricate designs–Cohen's glazed stoneware plates, bowls, and vessels teeter between functional and decorative.
Introducing an added layer of variety in artistic mediums, Frank Sherrill's animated felt puppets represent smiling animals, including a hippopotamus, frog, zebra, and dragon. Sherrill's work extends beyond puppetry, but the eight exhibited puppets express a sense of play that I can only assume permeated the daily routine of this artistic community living on Artists Alley.
The exhibition is organized quite rigidly by artist and features lengthy biographical information for each. While cognizant that BRAHM's mission encompasses the art and the history of Blowing Rock, I am left with questions of the artists' processes, collaborations within Artists Alley, and contributions to BRAHM since many are among its founding members.
With the diversity of mediums represented in Artists Alley: Building a Creative Community in Blowing Rock and the lack of a sole movement or "school of art" (i.e. the New York School who pioneered abstract expressionism) uniting Artists Alley, the exhibition emphasizes there is no single way to build a community. For Artists Alley, Blowing Rock's inspiration in the artists' work – as a landscape and a town – emerges as the uniting factor. In recognition of this vibrant, prolific artistic enclave, BRAHM honors its roots and inspires the current art community in Blowing Rock and the greater High Country.
Artists Alley: Building a Creative Community in Blowing Rock is on view in Rankin West Gallery of the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum through Saturday, November 11. For more details on this exhibition, please view the sidebar.